US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller has said the United States does not see any relation between the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey and Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership, contrary to what the Turkish president has recently claimed.
When asked during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on Monday to comment on remarks made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said US President Joe Biden linked the F-16 sale to Turkey to Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid, Miller said, “… with respect to whether they are linked, we do not believe that they are linked or should be linked.”
Yet, he said as the US administration made clear to the Turkish government earlier, the sale of F-16s is something that has to be approved by the US Congress, and there are members of Congress who believe the two issues are closely tied together.
“So while we do not believe that they are linked, we’re not the only actor in this process. We’ve made that clear directly to Turkish officials,” he added.
Addressing a press conference after the G20 summit in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Sunday, Erdoğan said he had a “pull-aside” meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the gathering and that they discussed the sale of F-16s to Turkey.
Biden made a connection between the sale of F-16s and Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s application to join NATO, Erdoğan said, adding, “This approach seriously upsets us.”
Turkey, which had been the main stumbling block in Sweden’s path towards NATO, asked in October 2021 to buy $20 billion worth of Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) F-16s and some 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.
After months of objections, Erdoğan agreed at a NATO summit in July to forward Sweden’s NATO bid to the Turkish parliament for ratification.
A day later, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington would proceed with the transfer of F-16s to Turkey in consultation with Congress.
However, the timing of both the F-16 transaction and the Turkish parliament’s green light for Sweden remain unclear.
The Turkish parliament would normally ratify Sweden’s NATO membership in October when it returns from the summer recess.
To another question asking whether the US administration has any concerns about a further delay in the ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership in the Turkish parliament in the wake of Erdoğan’s recent remarks, Miller said Sweden’s accession to NATO should be approved as soon as possible.
“And we appreciate President Erdogan’s support for it and take him at his word that he will push it through and that it will ultimately be ratified by the Turkish parliament. With respect to any sequencing, I’m not able to get into it at this point,” he added.
“If you say that Congress will decide [on the sale of F-16s to Turkey], then we have a congress in Turkey as well – it is the Turkish parliament,” Erdoğan told reporters on Sunday. “It is not possible for me to say ‘yes’ [to Sweden’s NATO membership bid] alone unless such a decision is approved by [our] parliament.”